Saying Goodbye Still Stinks!

Had such a wonderful few weeks. As always, we loved having the kiddos home and the week went by WAY TOO FAST. They left yesterday. I gave myself the day to be sad and for my heart to hurt.

I looked back at a few pictures from the week. This one, while watching Moana together (which we loved), isn’t great quality, but it makes me smile.

I was productive through the tears yesterday. I did some cleaning and planted the cabbage and broccoli in the garden. I had some help over the weekend to get the tomatoes and peppers in. We usually wait until at least Memorial Day to plant, but the tomatoes were out of control tall and spindly. Hoping the forecast is right and there are no surprise frosts.

Hoping to get my brain, and my body, back in gear this week.

Brookie Pie

The last week has included hours and hours and hours of weeding and yard work. There are still many hours of work left. I haven’t even touched the large perennial beds in the front of the house, or the garden yet. I have barely kept up with the dishes/laundry and the rest of the house is a disaster.

In the midst of it all on Saturday, I wanted chocolate. I went to my favorite blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction, and searched by ingredient. I should mention that a trip to the grocery store and to Trader Joes was way overdue and not on the agenda, so I had to narrow down options by what was in the house (and to what I could borrow from our neighbor).

Although pretty much every recipe I looked at sounded amazing, I settled on Brookie Pie. Here is where I admit that being married to an avid fisherman somehow made me think the title of this dessert was related to Brooke Trout. I am embarrassed to say that it took way too long to put together that the title was a combo of Brownie and Cookie…wow….

Hubby took a break to help so we divided up the batter duties. Two people baking, in a kitchen with little counter space, makes for quite the baking clutter.

Hubby’s cookie layer went in the pie dish first.

Then my brownie layer.

As I often do, pretty sure I over baked. I kept testing and it just didn’t seem to be getting done in the middle. Hubby thinks it may have had something to do with using the Trader Joes dark chocolate (red wrapper) vs semi sweet baking chocolate. I’m not sure since I’ve used it in other recipes. You can see the over done edges here.

It was on the verge of hot when we ate it the first time and it was yummy, but on the sweet/rich side for me. A friend suggested adding ice cream (which we got the next day) and that was an excellent idea. I shared some slices with two neighbors and haven’t heard back yet on their thoughts. Hopefully when I do, they will be honest in their reviews (hint).

I might try this one again, maybe in a larger baking dish with sides to protect the edges a bit more. Maybe trying to reduce the sugars just a tiny bit. It really was pretty darn good with the ice cream.

 

Chocolate Stout Cake

Last year, after hearing a friend talk about Irish Car Bomb Brownies, I decided to try them. Wowza, were they amazing!! I made them more than once, shared with friends/neighbors, froze them to get some to the kiddos, and ate way more than we should have right here. This year, around St Patrick’s Day, I opted to try another adult beverage themed dessert, Chocolate Stout Cake. Hubby was not upset at the prospect of having some extra Guinness to drink.

This recipe uses a bundt pan, which I actually have but haven’t used. My bundt pan, however, is apparently much skinnier than the one in the original recipe which I noticed after the cake was baked and on the cooling rack.

I had to re-read the recipe to confirm that it actually said to put the Guinness and the butter in a saucepan together. That was a new one for me. I used my early birthday present, pretty saucepan that matches my last year’s birthday present, pretty saute pan. (Aside: we are slowly working on updating the cook/bakeware, some of which we’ve had more than 20 years, and which REALLY needs to be replaced.)

Every time a recipe has hot ingredients that get mixed with eggs, it does give me a bit of worry, but it typically turns out without any eggs getting scrambled. And I must admit, I don’t especially enjoy working with cocoa powder, though I do enjoy the results. I followed the recipe fairly closely, though I probably used just a touch less sugar.

In the oven, with just a little mess up while pouring it in the pan.

And, looking good after baking. I gave it an extra minute or two, though it may not have needed it. The toothpick came out clean, but the cake just seemed too soft. Looking back, I’m guessing the sour cream added enough moisture to make it that much softer. Luckily it was not at all dry with the extra oven time.

I let it cool completely in the pan and then it popped out beautifully. This is when I realized it was a lot skinnier than the pan used in the recipe pictures.

I almost broke it when I moved it onto the cake stand. We had a guest over for dinner, so I used the fancy stand. The ganache turned out much thicker than in the recipe pictures, but it also meant it was less messy, and still pretty in its own way.

This cake was delicious. I was surprised, but I could taste the beer in the first bite, but after that, I couldn’t pull the flavor out again. After the first bite, the flavors melded and it was really pretty amazing. The ganache was good, but actually a little sweet. I used a combo of Trader Joes chocolate chips and chunks. I think the next time I will use the big squares of dark chocolate from the red wrapped bars, which are less sweet. I think it will still be sweet enough, but not too sweet to take away from the rich chocolate flavors.

I was pretty proud of myself on this one.

 

Special Guest Post

I am super excited to have a special guest on my blog today. I’ve mentioned my friend of many years and fellow empty nester, Beth, in this blog a a number of times. I had thought it would be fun to add a new feature of posts by empty nester friends, and she was gracious enough to agree to my request. I hope to have more empty nester guest posts over the next few months, and maybe Beth will even stop back again. After reading her post, I may finally use my Instant Pot for more than just yogurt.

THANK YOU BETH!!

*************************************************************************************************

When Mara asked me to write a guest post for her blog I was flattered and slightly nervous at the same time. It took me weeks to figure out what to write about. Mara and I have a lot in common so there are many directions I could go. We have been friends for over 30 years, we are both runners and empty-nesters, both have puppies attempting to refill our empty nests, and we both enjoy cooking and crafting.

My empty nest puppy:

I decided to go in the cooking direction and talk about my latest cooking appliance, the Instant Pot.  I had been intrigued for the past year after reading many articles and blogs about people who adore their instant pots. For anyone not familiar, the Instant Pot is a multi-function pressure cooker with additional settings to be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pot, steamer, warming pot, and yogurt maker. I finally purchased one because I thought it would complement my cooking style.

I’ve been doing much more food prep over the past year or so. This is part of my “empty nest”  routine as I no longer cook a meal every evening as I did when my son was at home. Instead I tend to cook a couple of times each week and make larger batches of food that my husband & I eat for multiple meals. For example I may roast a tray of chicken, a tray or two  of vegetables, bake some potatoes and cook some grains. Then we mix and match for different meals all week. It’s a great way to save time while eating healthy.

Back to the Instant pot. After reading the instructions multiple times as well as reading and watching various online tutorials, I finally felt confident that I wouldn’t have an explosion in my kitchen and was ready to do some experimentation. The first thing I made was hard boiled eggs. They had a five-minute cooking time, came out perfectly and were very easy to peel. (Does anyone else have a hard time with stubborn shells that are a pain to peel?) Next I baked purple sweet potatoes (10 minute cook time), quinoa (1 minute cook time!), and chicken breasts (5 minute cooking time). Keep in mind that each food takes a few minutes to get up to pressure and then to depressurize after the cooking time so the actual time is a bit longer but this gives you a comparison to traditional cooking times.

Perfect chicken:

My first attempt at an actual recipe was Thai Chicken Coconut Soup.  This involved first using the sauté mode for the onion and chicken for a few minutes, then adding additional ingredients and letting the Pot do it’s thing on high pressure for 10 minutes. The finished product was absolutely delicious, with tender chicken and bright flavors.

Outstanding soup:

There is still much more experimenting I will be doing with the Instant Pot, but so far it is definitely a winner in my kitchen. It’s great for food prep as well as being able to turn out dishes quickly without having to “babysit” them at the stove. I expect the Instant Pot to be in frequent use in my kitchen.

Empty Nest is (still %$#@ing) Hard

We are closing in on the three year mark of being Empty Nesters. It feels like longer though, as our youngest was functioning pretty independently the last year she was here. For some reason, I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t. There is something to be said for “out of sight, out of mind,” but it definitely doesn’t apply here.

Of course, there is less laundry, fewer dishes, fewer piles of shoes, less clutter, less chauffering, etc. We don’t miss the sisterly bickering, but boy do we miss the giggling, debates, brainstorming. It’s great to have Fargo to snuggle with on the couch (when he wants to), but we miss seeing the girls snuggling on the couch.

I’ve hypothesized before, that maybe it’s harder for us because so many of our friends’ children go to school close enough that they can see them more often. When we did the empty nest thing, we REALLY did it, and only see our kiddos 3-4 times/year. Yes, there are things that are easier to get used to, but too many that are not.

Every once in a while, hubby will say, “it would be really cool if the kids could just come over for dinner.” He is right. We are definitely grateful for technology and the ability to text, Snapchat, Facetime, email, whenever possible, but it’s not a replacement for big, huge squeezes.

Just because they’re far away, doesn’t mean we (especially me) worry less. The eldest was sick last week during her Spring Break, and if she were closer, could have come home and been coddled. The youngest traveled abroad for Spring Break and though she was abroad for an entire semester last fall, it’s harder to have her even further than usual.

The eldest is graduating in a few weeks, which brings along so many emotions, and may be why I’m writing this post. How did we get from this…

…to two kids graduating from college in the next 13+ months? How did the years go by so quickly?

I try to keep this blog pretty upbeat. I try to use my free time wisely (for the most part), though I’m not always sure what that means. The hubby and I enjoy being a couple again (for the most part…haha ). Fargo lucked into being a spoiled empty nest puppy, and I’m glad we can spoil him. But whether they choose to live where they are, or move back to the East Coast, they will likely never live close enough to just “come over for dinner.”

If I’m going to be an honest empty nest blogger, this part of it needs to be shared as well. As proud as we are of our amazing daughters, empty nest is (still $%#@ing) hard, even three years later.

 

Molly on the Range Recipe Round Up Part II

I didn’t think that I had taken so many pictures of the Molly recipes, but when I started typing out and putting together the post, I realized I needed to break it into two. Here is the second half. Hopefully I will test out even more in the near future, though tonight I’m going with a Spicy Cauliflower Burger from Pinch of Yum. I’ll report back on that one soon.

Unfortunately, Molly doesn’t have an online link to her Shakshuka Couscous, so I have a link to a post by Sarcastic Cooking. I haven’t spent much time on this site, so I don’t know much about it. Molly does not use Adobo Sauce, she uses Harissa seasoning. I had never heard of Harissa before, but luckily my mom happened to have some and she gave it to me. As a side note, I just saw Harissa Salsa at Trader Joes, though I didn’t try it yet. Molly doesn’t use pepper jack cheese, she uses feta. I believe these are the only two ingredient differences.

The onions, garlic and seasonings smelled incredible.

Molly says you can make this without the couscous if you don’t have time to let it cook. She has a whole backstory to this dish which is fun to read. I used the veggie broth base and I think I should have added a little more liquid.

This was interesting. It took way longer for the eggs to cook than I had anticipated.

Molly says you can leave them uncovered if you like a runnier yolk, or you can spoon the tomato/coucous mixture over top if you want more of a buttery textured yolk. That’s what I opted to do, especially since they were taking so long to cook. That is why you can’t see the eggs below.

Hubby thought it was excellent. I thought it was a little thick and overly tomato-y. I liked it a lot, but will definitely try to adjust just a tad next time.

My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls was a MUST just because I thought the title was great. As mentioned in the previous post, the link goes to a video that Molly made. I have to give her credit for saying you use nuts without laughing. In the book, she gives the option to choose walnuts or almonds. I went with walnuts and I toasted them in the frying pan for a few minutes.

Then everything goes in the food processor, and blend. I tried to mix too much vs pulse and my blade began to lift from the bottom again. I had to mix more by hand. Also, I need to figure out how to fix my burner because the frying pan is tipped enough that the oil isn’t evenly divided, thus the bizarre looking arrangement below.

Let me tell you, these are AMAZING!! We tried one on its own and then we did the actual pasta with sauce/meatballs thing.

You can’t even tell by looking at them that they are meatless. And did I mention they were AMAZING?? Hubby, the meat eater, was super impressed. We were both very excited for lunch leftovers the next day. Definitely bringing these back for a repeat performance soon.

Fargo was, once again, worn out by all of the food excitement.

 

Molly on the Range Recipe Round-Up Part I

Sorry for the delay in posting. This was a longer one to put together (I actually ended up dividing it into two posts). I’ve been spending more time cooking/baking so have a lot to write about. It’s also tax time. For some reason, I decided to wash and iron all of the curtains yesterday and it took a HUGE chunk of the day, way more time than I thought. I spent time chatting with a few friends and my kiddos and I loved every minute, though it also cut into blog post creation time. But here it goes.

Molly on the Range is a fun book/cookbook and so far, every recipe we have tried has gotten four thumbs up. Co-workers with whom I’ve shared a few recipes, have made them and also enjoyed. Since I began the baking/cooking (more adventurous cooking)/kitchen adventures/blog, I have mostly pulled recipes from food blogs, but this is a book worth having. Some of the recipes are on Molly’s blog, but the book versions may/may not have tweaks. Others are not on her blog, though I’ve found other bloggers who have posted about them. For one recipe, Molly has an online video vs a blog post, which is what I used for the link.

I am including two of Molly’s recipes in this post, Hummus, Cauliflower Shawarma Tacos. The Part II post will include Shakshuka Couscous (this version is the closest I can find online and I’ll note the differences), and My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls.

We love hummus, and have tried numerous varieties and versions. I followed her recipe closely, even soaked and cooked the dried chickpeas as directed.

chick peas soaking

I’m having a little issue with the food processor. The blade will start to float up off the bottom when I mix for too long. It happened here and it happened with another recipe. But this is what the chick peas looked like after the soaking and cooking.

Molly is right, eating it warm is amazing and makes a huge difference!

Next up is the Cauliflower Shawarma Tacos. Hubby was a little wary of this one, but let me tell you that it was so incredibly delicious, we’ve had it twice already. I used the vegetable broth base vs. the chicken broth base.

Seasoned cauliflower ready to be roasted.

Add the sauteed onions, the raw onions, the tahini sauce, some cilantro and roll it up, and OH MY!!

Just as a refresher, here is the book.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Peanut Butter Swirled Brownies

I baked over the weekend. I baked using refined sugar. I baked something I saw on Instagram, something that called out to me. I baked Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Peanut Butter Swirled Brownies!!! It has almost all of my favorite components (missing pumpkin/squash). After so many weeks of trying to avoid sugar, I figured go big or go home. Or so I thought, but really, this recipe only has 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar, which is way less than a lot of recipes I’ve made.

I was definitely in a chocolate mood, so lots of melted chocolate was a good way to start. Add in some cocoa powder and instant coffee and mmmmmmmm….

choc cocoa powder

choc mmmmm

Once the brownie half is done, it’s on to the oatmeal cookie half. The recipe gives the option to use a more flavorless oil, or to use coconut oil. I opted to try coconut oil, especially as we’ve been enjoying it so much on popcorn. It was a good choice.

oatmeal batter

As with the brussels sprout latkes, I was concerned as I put the two batters together, that they wouldn’t meld/mix/combine or that they’d combine too much, etc.

choc dollops

choc and oat

Ready to bake, crossing fingers.

choc oat pb

I think I may have left it in a minute or two long because I was unsure if the brownie part was really done, but overall, looked pretty decent.

choc oat pb done

This was a really great choice for the baking comeback. It was not in any way too sweet. Using all dark chocolate and unsweetened peanut butter helped. I really liked the little bit of coffee flavor that came through in the brownie bites. Definitely a winner!

choc oat swirl

Fargo watched me trying to get a good picture of the finished product. I didn’t really get a good picture, but it was funny watching him watching me.

fargo plate

I took all of the pictures with the fancy camera. I definitely have lighting issues, as there are lots of yellow tones. I don’t have picture editing skills yet. I am still also failing on indoor vs outdoor light settings.

pic failure

It’s obviously going to be a long learning curve for me.